I am 50+ hours deep into Ubisoft’s recent faux-MMO shooter release, Tom Clancy’s The Division, and I’m not really quite sure why I played that much of it. Having completed all of its designed mission content and obtained all 293 collectibles, I now look at what boxes I haven’t ticked yet. Currently I have two choices in front of me, and both boil down to grinding post-game completion currency to purchase shiny new loot to grind more post-game completion currency for shinier new loot to grind more…but to what end? Currently Ubisoft cannot answer that question, but yet I still play it, but only when I have a podcast to listen to. The Division just becomes an exercise for my hands while my brain is faraway somewhere, and that should tell you about just how engaging The Division is at the end of the day.
And this is a problem as The Division tries to stick with you from a gameplay or narrative experience. But unfortunately, The Division is about as safe as can be for a big budget mainstream story experience. Narratively you have a minimal cast of named characters that all merely serve as vendors of quests which pushes a clichéd narrative of secret government military programs, rogue agents, apocalyptic New York viruses, and super hero feats of shooting other people in the face really well. The Division will sometimes throw out a evocative and socially-charged line like “What do you care, I’ll just be another black person.” that is never followed-up upon, which almost feels offensive in how throwaway these otherwise potent moments become. These moments feel like desperate and ultimately unsuccessful bids by Ubisoft to give the soulless, mindless and lifeless Tom Clancy’s The Division any relevancy at all.
Any deep engagement one could get from The Division will be from its roleplaying systems. There are 3 skill, talent and perk trees that are tied to different facilities in your headquarters space in the game, with each tree being focused toward healing, ally buffing, or damage dealing. When you first start exploring The Division’s confusing and claustrophobic menus, the game will initially signal at profound depth and customization. But The Division's customization systems quickly reveals itself to be nothing but more hoops to jump through once you decipher The Division’s needlessly complicated progression system.
This is because while it seems like you have to pick-and-choose where you what to invest your resources to upgrade the facility with the abilities you want, fairly quickly you will gain enough resources to get all of them anyway. There’s no real “roleplay” in The Division for this reason, as you are never asked to make any meaningful sacrifices to specialize in the skills you want. Not to mention that most of the skills and talents are useless, except for a small few which I’ve noticed everyone taking, including myself, without having to do any extraneous research to figure out. The only variation will be in the weapons everyone has, but the generic weapon design and lack of diversity hurt this aspect of customization.
Indeed, the gunplay in general is incredibly standard and unremarkable. Even for a genre as unpopular right now as the cover-based third-person shooter is, The Division comes off as rote and uninspired. Literally nothing about The Division stands out as a noteworthy play experience, but like its narrative design, is general inoffensive and safe. For a game with so much loot to collect and quests to complete, I would’ve appreciate it more if The Division refined itself as a quality shooting experience, but sacrifices engaging interaction for providing you more content checkboxes to tick off.
Regarding the amount of content in The Division, while numerous, is fairly typical shooter mission design that favors quantity over quality with the 6 side mission types repeated ad nauseum. Thankfully the story missions fair a bit better thanks to being more handcrafted and often contain the most exciting moments in The Division, but these story missions are generally few-and-far between leaving you stuck with the rest of the clutter. At the end of the game, The Division points you in 2 post-game roads to go down until more DLC missions, loot and the first hardcore Incursion story mission are added to the game. The first path is to complete daily quests which are just the story mission recycled on more challenging difficulty settings to earn Phoenix Credit to buy high-end weapons and crafting recipes. The second being exploring the competitive Dark Zone area and collecting Dark Zone Credits to buy special Dark Zone Gear.
The Dark Zone is where the always-connceted nature of The Division online structure becomes more transparent. It’s a sectioned off area of the world map where you can randomly run into other players, who can either help you farm loot and extract it out of the quarantined-off Dark Zone, or kill you and steal all of your stuff. It’s a strong move taking the most interesting ideas of player vs. player tension out of impenetrable games like DayZ and Rust and putting them in a more casual and approachable context.
While the Dark Zone is The Division’s most innovative idea, even this feature has some fairly looming issues. Firstly, there are no quests in the Dark Zone, which is painful because leveling-up your Dark Zone rank which dictates what weapons you can purchase from the Dark Zone Vendors is laborious, boiling down to grinding the same AI mobs over-and-over again for merger gains. Secondly, dying in the Dark Zone actually strips you of Dark Zone Experience Points and loot container keys, and going rogue makes you lose substantially more of both if you are caught and gunned down. This basically guts the tension in the Dark Zone as no one wants to lose all of their progression, causing everyone just to generally ignore each other. Even with its most unique ideas, which are in reality just simplified concepts found in other more interesting games, The Division can’t help but to cripple the one thing that makes it meaningfully standout from the already lackluster competition.
The Division is a gorgeous looking world with a ton of interesting visual details packed inside, but Ubisoft fails to cram an interesting and engaging game into it. Its by-the-numbers gunplay, nonexistent narrative, lack of impactful content, meaningless roleplay systems, and compromised yet sometimes compelling Dark Zone area makes The Division the most risk-adverse checkbox experience I’ve played since the last Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry game, which funny enough weren't that long ago. Lacking entertaining interactive systems, The Division is just another bigger Open World Ubisoft Game TM. It’s distressing how often Ubisoft falls back on this model of design, but what’s more deplorable is that 50+ hours later, I ultimately fell for it yet again.
TWO OUT OF FIVE
(A bad game with an abundance of flaws which outweigh its positive aspects)